Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner, Toby Price, and Kevin Benavides are fired up and focused on success as they enter the final phase of preparations ahead of next January’s Dakar Rally. The three-man team – all former Dakar Rally winners – will be joined in the Middle East by newly retired MotoGP™ rider Danilo Petrucci, who will make his Dakar debut at the 2022 event.
With just over one month to go before the highly anticipated start of the 2022 Dakar Rally, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing are currently completing their final period of testing before packing their bags and heading to the start of the famous race, early in January 2022. Matthias, Toby, and Kevin will all compete on the latest version of the KTM 450 RALLY – a bike developed in close cooperation between KTM Technologies, KTM’s R&D department, KISKA, and KTM Motorsports over the last two years.
Matthias Walkner has enjoyed an exceptional 2021 season, ultimately becoming FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion. Finishing as runner-up at the high-speed Rally Kazakhstan, the 35-year-old then topped the Silk Way Rally before solidifying his position as the man on form by claiming another runner-up finish at the Rallye du Maroc and wrapping up the world title. At the final race of the year – the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – Walkner brought his 2021 season to a winning close, underlining his impressive form ahead of next January’s Dakar Rally. Now, with time to focus on his next big challenge, Matthias goes into the Dakar fully fit and carrying a huge amount of confidence ahead of the two-week race. Winner of the event in 2018, he’ll undoubtedly be looking to double his title count in January.
Matthias Walkner: “2021 has been a really, really good year for me, starting with my performance at the Dakar and then throughout the world championship. Luck wasn’t on my side in January, I had an issue early on that cost me too much time to get a top result. My speed was definitely good though and I was able to carry that into the rest of the season. It’s been a difficult couple of years for everyone but it’s always good when all your hard work and training pays off with some strong results. To finish inside the top two in all of the four races we entered during the year, and to take two wins shows my passion for racing is still as strong as ever. Morocco is one of the most important races leading up to the Dakar due to the terrain and with all of the top riders competing, I finished second there, less than two minutes down and that was definitely a big boost for my confidence. I’m feeling good, I’m really comfortable on the bike, and with just a few weeks to go before Dakar, I’m ready to race!”
Toby Price showed impressive pace at the 2021 Dakar Rally, but was frustratingly forced to retire following a crash on stage nine, which caused a year of disruption for the Aussie. Following three separate surgeries, Price has largely stayed away from competition, spending time on his bike at home in Australia during the second half of the season, before joining the team later in the year to test and develop the new KTM 450 RALLY. Contesting the Rallye du Maroc in October, he put in five solid days of racing, also taking the time to further improve the set-up of the new machine through the Moroccan dunes in preparation for the Dakar. Happy with his own performance, and that of the bike, Toby will be looking to make amends for his 2021 Dakar disappointment and claim his third title at the 2022 event.
Toby Price: “I’m really looking forward to Dakar 2022. This year’s race didn’t go too well for me, crashing out on stage nine. I was sitting in a good place, so it was tough to have to retire. The plan for the next one is similar to those I’ve had in the past to be honest – make it safely to the rest day in a solid position, stay in contention, and try to let the days come to me. On the days that we need to push, we’ll really go for it. It’s easy to make a plan, but the rally is always changing day-by-day, you have to be able to adapt. I’m feeling really good now, and the work on the new bike is definitely going in the right direction. All being well we should be in the mix, and I can’t wait to go racing again with the Red Bull KTM team!”
Ready to make his Dakar Rally debut for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 2021 event winner Kevin Benavides is fired up to get back racing following an injury-hit season. Due to make his competitive debut for the team at Rally Kazakhstan, Benavides’ participation was ruled out following a practice crash that resulted in an injured shoulder. Like teammate Price, Benavides endured a period of time off his bike before restarting his full training regime later in the summer. At the Rallye du Maroc – his first time riding the KTM 450 RALLY in competition – Kevin placed a solid seventh overall, showing exceptional skill and speed on the tricky-to-navigate sand stages. The reigning Dakar Champion will now complete his intense training regime to build his strength ahead of the 44th edition of the event, before heading out to the Middle East late in December with the goal of making it two in a row.
Kevin Benavides: “Well, the big race is just around the corner now – it’s amazing how fast this year has gone. I’m really looking forward to this new challenge and taking on the Dakar riding for Red Bull KTM. The year has been tough for me, soon after signing for the team I hurt my shoulder in a practice crash and that meant I had to spend three months off the bike right at the time I needed to ride as much as possible. After that, the testing and training program has been intense – the team came out to America where we did a lot of work on the new bike, then we travelled to Morocco to race the Rallye du Maroc. The goal there was to make further steps with the bike and really get to know the team in a racing environment. It all went really well, and I’m very pleased with the steps we’ve made with the new KTM 450 RALLY. Now, with only a month to go until the big race, I’m trying to get as much training done as possible, as well as time on the new bike. I’ll then fly into the Middle East and be ready to defend my Dakar title. It’s always difficult to plan a set strategy, but once the first week is done, if everything is okay after the rest day, I will be trying my best to make it back-to-back wins!”
Joining the team in Saudi Arabia, former MotoGP™ star Danilo Petrucci will be riding for KTM Factory Racing and making his competitive rally debut at the Dakar. Swapping his KTM RC16 for a KTM 450 RALLY, the likeable Italian will take on the world’s toughest rally hoping to complete the event at his first attempt. Danilo has already had time to test his Tech3 KTM Factory Racing rally bike alongside the team and has undergone intense road book training, under the watchful eye of KTM’s Rally Sport Manager Jordi Viladoms, in order to be ready to face the incredibly challenging navigation required for rally racing.
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager: “It’s going to be my first year attending the Dakar as Rally Team Manager and definitely something I’ve been looking forward to since taking the position. It’s a hugely important race for KTM, and the whole team have put in a massive effort for this main event, with their training, preparation, and with the new bike. In terms of the riders, Matthias has made a big improvement in his speed and consistency over the last year, and that has allowed him to claim the world championship – he can deliver when he needs to. Kevin is the reigning Dakar champion and knows exactly what is needed to be on top at the end of the final stage. He’s spent a lot of time training and working on the new bike this year and we can’t wait to see him perform on the KTM. Thankfully Toby is almost back to 100% now and you can never rule him out of a Dakar win – he seems to be able to just push a button and be right up front. Finally, it’s great to have Danilo join the rally program from MotoGP™. He’s shown great skill on the bike already in what is a big and exciting new challenge for him. His goal this year is just to finish the race, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he progresses through the event.”
The 2022 Dakar Rally will commence on Saturday, January 1, with a short Prologue to decide the start order for stage one. In total, the event consists of 12 full stages, covering a distance of around 8,000km. The race is set to start in Ha’il, from where riders will travel south, stopping at the rest day in Riyadh before heading on to the finish at Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, on January 14. Competitors will also face the challenge of two marathon stages during the rally, where no outside assistance is allowed.
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Photographer: Marcin Kin